Bend But Not Break: A Late Season Rifle Mule Deer Hunt

Bend But Not Break: A Late Season Rifle Mule Deer Hunt - Muley Freak

A Life-Altering Ride

May 28th, 2021 - A day that changed 18-year-old Connor Olsen’s life forever. What was supposed to be an enjoyable dirt bike ride with friends and family turned into a night of horror that left Connor on the cold ground motionless and without feeling of his lower body. Connor was cruising a little too fast on a mountain trail that evening and as he crested a small rise he missed the sharp turn of the trail. Connor hit a rock with his bike and was thrown a good distance into a dry creek bed. Connor remembers smashing his helmet against a rock and then things going black for an extensive period of time. He awoke to friends and family by his side as they waited 3 hours for life flight to arrive.

The diagnosis was a fractured T-8 vertebrae. Connor would spend the next year and a half plus rehabbing, working, hoping, and praying that he would be able to walk again. Ultimately, this accident has placed Connor in a wheelchair. Since the accident, there have been a lot of good days, and a lot of bad days for Connor. But miraculously, he chooses to look at the brighter side of things. When you meet Connor, you can’t help but see the positive light that so abundantly encompasses him. His smile is bright. His positivity is electric. He’s one of those people that you just love to be around.

An Introduction

What do I, the author, have to do with this story? Great question. I am just lucky enough to have met Connor, honestly - and now I’m blessed to call him a friend. See, I have a really kind and generous friend named Paul that assists me in taking out chair-bound sportsmen, youth, and veterans alike hunting on Paul’s CWMU (Cooperative Wildlife Management Unit). I heard about Connor through a mutual friend early on in 2022 that had met Connor at therapy. After hearing his story, I knew he was the one I wanted to take out hunting. We then arranged to meet Connor where we surprised him with this hunt of a lifetime - a mule deer hunt in November! Connor graciously accepted, and we spent the next few months in great anticipation for the day of the hunt.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the hunting industry, it's that there are still a handful of good, generous people out there willing to help - like my good friend Paul who I mentioned earlier. Keeping on that same thought, one of the first things I did after meeting Connor for the first time was call my good friend Justin Sparks at Kryptek Outdoor Group. Without hesitation, Justin agreed to get Connor fully outfitted in Kryptek Camo! A few other companies chipped in as well to make this hunt possible namely Hornady, and Hunts for the Brave. 

Watch the hunt film here: 


The Area

I’ve had the opportunity over the last few years to film, guide, and otherwise help out on multiple deer hunts on this property, so I somewhat had an idea of what kind of caliber of buck we were looking for. In preparation for Connor’s hunt I spent multiple days scouting during the warm mornings and evenings of Summer, and even went on a few rides in September and October enjoying the changing leaves while taking “inventory” as they say. I saw a lot of great deer each month that I went scouting, some of the deer were repeat finds, and others were new bucks that had appeared out of nowhere. While there are resident deer that live here, I consider this property mostly a migration corridor, where bucks from the high country move through to get to their breeding grounds. This is why November is so magical on this property. As the temps drop, and snow starts to fly, new bucks can be found every single day as they search for receptive females.

The property ranges from nearly 8,000 feet in elevation down to 5,600 ft. One minute you can be traversing high pine ridges, and the next thing you know you’re cruising the sagebrush flats. Our plan with Connor was to start high, weather permitting, and then work our way down to the flats. The best part of this area is that much of the property is accessible by road. This road access makes hunting with chair-bound sportsmen much more possible than it would be otherwise.

The Hunt: Part 1

November 5th finally rolled around and it was time to hit the frozen dirt roads with Connor! We had received a heavy snowfall the last few days of October which had brought hundreds of deer from the high country down low - that coupled with near-zero temps and we had the makings of a perfect mule deer hunt! Connor had been hunting for a number of years with his family but had yet to harvest a buck. He described his typical hunt as seeing very few deer and almost no bucks through the years. So when he drove into the property with his dad on the afternoon of the fifth and saw 4 young bucks off the road while heading to our sleeping quarters, he was blown away! Paul, Connor, his dad Delan, and myself quickly gathered our things and loaded up in the CanAm to go for a quick drive that night. We only had time to check one canyon before the sun dipped below the snow-capped ridges. We saw plenty of does up the long windy canyon but no big bucks courting them.

You may be thinking to yourself, it’s November, bucks are stupid while rutting, and they are hunting an area with great road access - this is like shooting fish in a barrel. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. All of those conditions give Connor a puncher’s chance, we still have to find a mature buck in a perfect place (the mature buck portion of that can be hard in itself). With Connor being bound to shoot from the side-by-side, if a mature buck is too high on a ridge, or too low in elevation down a canyon, it makes getting a shot off almost impossible. Getting a big buck to hold still while sneaking up in a machine and shifting a vehicle around is also a tall task.

The next morning we woke up to dense fog that made seeing even 50 yards ahead near impossible. Despite the poor weather we trudged forward with high hopes because of what we had seen the previous couple of days. The first canyon we drove up had two does moving through the thick maples. We figured with it being a chilly November morning, there had to be a buck lurking somewhere near. After glassing for a few minutes we picked up another body working its way through the thick, intertwined branches. The silhouette soon broke out into the open and it was a large framed 3-pt buck and had what seemed like the neck size of an angus bull. He gave us a thirty second look before he put his nose to the ground like a bird dog and followed the two does. I looked at Connor and he relayed to me that he wasn’t ready to pull the trigger on the first morning. We continued onward to a high point on the property where we can usually see a number of different canyons. Unfortunately, the fog prevented us from seeing much at all, so we decided to head back for lunch in hopes that the fog would clear out.

The Hunt: Part 2

After filling our bellies, we looked outside to see a strange winter rain breaking through the fog. While rain in November wasn’t ideal, it seemed to be clearing some of the fog out of the valley floor. Our hopes weren’t sky high for the afternoon hunt due to the weather, but the fully enclosed CanAm made it a little bit easier to stomach. We decided to check a canyon that in the past has been a funnel for big, mature bucks. The thick maples make it hard to hunt, but once in a while a big buck will step out to feed or chase a hot doe. We had checked it the night before with no luck, but with it being November you never know what will show up. As we turned the corner and looked up at the first finger ridge, a couple of deer bodies could be seen with the naked eye. Paul broke the silence with, “big buck”!

I jumped out and got my Sony long lens on the buck, took a quick glance at his antlers, whispered “shooter”,  and then grabbed my other Sony to start filming Connor. Paul quickly backed up, repositioned the CanAm so Connor had a clear shooting lane, and helped get Connor set up for the 250 yard shot. The buck was feeding straight away in the pouring rain so we waited for what seemed like an eternity until he decided to turn broadside. Connor took a deep breath and then sent a Hornady ELDX from his 7mm the buck’s way - CRACK! The buck immediately buckled, a perfect front shoulder shot! The buck stumbled forward and was down in seconds. After confirming he was down, Connor soaked in the moment with quiet gratitude, followed by hugs, high fives, and cheers with his dad, Paul and myself.

Paul and I wanted to make sure that Connor got the full experience of his first buck. So, since we couldn’t drive the machine up the steep face towards the buck, and instead of dragging the buck to Connor, Paul carried Connor piggy-back style right up to his buck - Connor’s face beaming the whole way there. It couldn’t have been poorer weather on that ridge that day, yet you couldn’t have found a happier bunch of guys at that time in the entire world. For just a few moments that day, all the pain, heartache, and depression from the past 18 months completely melted away for Connor. You could see it in his face. All that was on his mind was the joy of this perfect moment. A perfect shot. A big buck in the perfect place. A perfect first buck.

We then took trophy photos, snagged some video, and headed back to the skinning shack to do the usual caping, cleaning, and processing of Connor’s first buck. Yet, nothing felt “usual” about this experience. It was special. It was unique. I believe it felt this way because Connor is special, and unique, and has a bright future ahead. 


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